Published March 25, 2013
UNITED NATIONS – Supporters of a strong U.N. treaty to regulate the multibillion-dollar global arms trade on Monday criticized the latest draft for not being tough enough to halt the trade in illicit weapons, which fuel wars and kills thousands of innocent civilians.
Hopes of reaching agreement on what would be a landmark treaty were dashed last July when the United States said it needed more time to consider the proposed accord — a move quickly backed by Russia and China. In December, the U.N. General Assembly decided to hold a final conference and set Thursday as the deadline for reaching agreement on a treaty.
Whether the 193 U.N. member states will be able to reach consensus on a text in the coming days remains to be seen. If not, supporters could go to the General Assembly and put forward a resolution on proposed treaty, which would almost certainly be adopted. But the key would be whether it had the support of the major arms exporters led by the U.S., China, Russia, Britain and France.
Britain's chief negotiator, Ambassador Jo Adamson, said Monday the current draft still needs improvement but "I think we continue to move in the right direction in terms of substance and process."
The Control Arms coalition, which represents about 100 organizations worldwide campaigning for a strong treaty, urged Australian Ambassador Peter Woolcott, who is chairing the negotiations, not to cave in to demands from India and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members, who are also major arms exporters.
"Nearly 120 states called on Mr. Woolcott to deliver a robust treaty at the start of the conference, declaring that a weak treaty was worse than no treaty," said Anna Macdonald, Oxfam's head of arms control. "The new text is not good enough and fails to reflect the demands of the majority of the member states. ... This is not going to save lives."
She stressed that "this treaty must not be drawn by Syria," an opponent of a strong treaty along with others including Iran, Sudan, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela.
The draft treaty under consideration does not control the domestic use of weapons in any country, but it would require all countries to establish national regulations to control the transfer of conventional arms, parts and components and to regulate arms brokers. It would prohibit states that ratify the treaty from transferring conventional weapons if they would violate arms embargoes or if they would promote acts of genocide, crimes against humanity or war crimes.
In considering whether to authorize the export of arms, the draft says a country must evaluate whether the weapon would be used to violate international human rights or humanitarian laws or be used by terrorists or organized crime.
Ammunition has been a key issue, with some countries pressing for the same controls on ammunition sales as arms, but the U.S. and others opposed to such tough restrictions.
The latest draft calls for each country that ratifies the treaty to establish regulations for the export of ammunition "fired, launched or delivered" by the weapons covered by the convention.
Eleven Latin American and Caribbean countries in a joint statement Monday said this would leave out important items like hand grenades.
The statement, presented by Ambassador Juan Manuel Gomez Robledo, Mexico's vice minister for multilateral affairs, also criticized restrictions on the scope of the treaty.
The initial text listed a series of conventional arms that the treaty would apply to "at a minimum" such as tanks, large-caliber artillery systems, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships, missiles and missile launchers, and small arms and light weapons. But the latest draft dropped the words "at a minimum," which the 11 countries criticized.
Oxfam's Macdonald said the phrase was eliminated at the request of the United States. The U.S. Mission declined to comment because negotiations are ongoing.
The Latin statement, supported by Germany, also complained that the inclusion of the U.N. Register on Conventional Arms as the basis for countries to define the items subject to regulation "is too restrictive" since it doesn't define small arms and light weapons which "would create a serious loophole in the treaty."
Ted Bromund, a senior research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, told AP that in the latest text Woolcott, the conference chair, "has tried to split the difference by giving the treaty supporters tighter criteria on arms transfers, keeping ammunition partly out of the treaty for the U.S., respecting India's commercial ambitions, and adding a little more emphasis on 'unauthorized' possession to please the Arab states."
"By giving everyone something, though, he risks giving everyone a reason to reject a treaty that satisfies no one fully," Bromund said.